If anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles is indeed in Miami and presents himself to authorities, it would be the ultimate nonfiction spin on `The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.’
Posted on Sun, Apr. 03, 2005
BY OSCAR CORRAL
It was vintage Luis Posada Carriles: An obscure local Spanish-language television station announces that the famed anti-Castro fugitive is in Miami.
No independent confirmation that the dapper dresser nicknamed Bambi is in town. No media interviews. Just a report that quickly creates a stir.
Cuban exiles loyal to him rally in Miami. U.S. authorities are perplexed. Lips seal. Cuba pitches a fit because it considers him its own Osama bin Laden. Venezuela wants him back in prison. Lawyers are hired for him, though they say they’ve never laid eyes on him.
Only one thing is certain: If Posada is indeed in Miami, his visit mirrors his shadowy career as a CIA-trained spy, an explosives expert, escape artist, security advisor to presidents across the Caribbean and—some say—terrorist.
‘‘He should be received as a hero,’’ said Cuban-American developer Santiago Alvarez, who helped pay to hire a lawyer in Miami to represent Posada. ``He is a symbol of the tenacity and patriotism of Cubans throughout 45 years of exile.’‘
The determined but fruitless exile struggle to violently topple Cuban leader Fidel Castro since he took power in 1959 has defined Posada’s career. It is a cause that has lost steam in recent years with the death of old-time militants like Nazario Sargen, who founded the anti-Castro paramilitary group Alpha 66.
Now, Posada appears poised to come in from the cold world of sabotage and conspiracy.
Born in 1928 in the south-central port of Cienfuegos, Posada quickly soured on Castro’s revolution and joined Brigade 2506 before its disastrous landing at the Bay of Pigs.
His ship never hit shore, and he went on to be a CIA operative in Miami, specially trained in the science of explosives.
But by 1967 he was working with the Venezuelan police, tracking down pro-Castro guerrillas. And until 1976, when he and Miami pediatrician Orlando Bosch were arrested in Caracas for the midair bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people, he had been just another anti-Castro militant.
Venezuela’s cumbersome legal system never convicted either man for the airplane bombing. Bosch eventually won his freedom, but Posada escaped from prison, while awaiting a prosecutor’s appeal, in August 1985.
One year later he turned up in El Salvador, secretly working for U.S. National Security Council member Lt. Col. Oliver North and managing part of the supply operations for contra guerrillas fighting the Marxist-led Sandinista government in Nicaragua. At the same time, The Herald reported, he was infiltrating the Salvadoran right on behalf of President Jose Napoleon Duarte.
Then, in 1990, he hit the headlines again after gunmen nearly killed him in Guatemala City, where the government had hired him as an expert in electronic surveillance. The attack, with silencer-equipped automatic weapons, shattered his jaw and left him with permanent speech difficulties that force him to slurp between phrases.
Helped to recover by Cuban exile and Guatemalan friends, he later speculated that the assassins were Castro agents. But in a 1991 interview with The Herald, he vowed to continue his struggle for a free Cuba.
``We have maintained the belligerence ... when people were immersed up there [in Miami] trying to live well, trying to forget Cuba. We did what we could to continue the fight. We didn’t give up. Right or wrong.’‘
Again he vanished for years, living mostly in El Salvador and Honduras and secretly increasing the thread count in his vast web of conspiracies. He reportedly planned to blow up a Cuban freighter in Honduras in 1993, and led a team of exiles to Colombia to try to assassinate Castro in 1994.
Then suddenly in 1997, a dozen or so bombs went off in tourist spots around Havana for the first time in decades, killing one tourist and wounding half a dozen others. A young Salvadoran, Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon, was arrested in Havana.
Herald reports linked Posada to the bombings and said Cuban exiles in South Florida had provided $15,000 in funding. The next year, the New York Times quoted Posada as saying he was responsible for the bombings and that leaders of the Cuban American National Foundation had ‘‘supported’’ his efforts to topple Castro. Posada later said he lied to the newspaper, and denied a role in the bombings.
Posada then melted back into shadows until November 2000, when he and Miami exiles Pedro Remon, Gaspar Jimenez and Guillermo Novo were arrested in Panama for allegedly plotting to assassinate Castro during a summit there.
They were convicted only on charges of endangering public safety and sentenced to up to eight years, but Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso pardoned them in late 2004. The three Miami men came home, but Posada went into hiding.
The four have claimed that they went to Panama to meet up with a Cuban army general who had signalled to them that he planned to defect while Castro was in Panama and would need their help getting out of the country—raising the specter of a possible setup by the Cuban intelligence services.
That whiff of a setup helped continue the speculation among some U.S. and Cuban exile intelligence experts that Havana’s security agencies had sometimes managed to play Posada as a ‘‘tonto util’’—a useful fool. Some of his plots, they say, seem almost tailor-made to help paint the Cuban communities in Miami and New Jersey as rabid terrorists.
The first hint Posada might be in the Miami area came Tuesday night, when Spanish-language station Channel 41 quoted three unidentified sources saying he was here and planned to ``present himself to North American authorities.’‘
And now, if he emerges in Miami, Posada might be again bringing the shadow of terrorism to Miami and sparking a U.S. confrontation with Cuba and Venezuela, both of which want him on terrorism charges.
Because of the Bush administration’s global war on terror, it may be embarrassed by the presence here of an accused terrorist, even one who may have come in from the cold to retire and seek treatment for the skin cancer and other ailments that afflict the 77-year-old.
Even in a 1990 interview with The Herald, he mused about his aged cause.
‘‘When you think about it, we’ve grown old with our enemies,’’ he said. ``Bosch is really old. Fidel Castro is old. And I’m old.’‘